Spotlight On: Southlake, Texas
She may have impersonated Marilyn Monroe, but there’s nothing phony about her retail smarts
After 22 years teaching dance, gymnastics and being a part-time actress, it was a natural evolution for Nacheska Gentry-Combs of Over the Top Costume Shoppe to go from wearing dancewear all day and night to selling it. Since she knew a lot about it, she opened a little adjoining shop that soon evolved into a full-time dancewear store with a few costumes.
Much to her surprise, people were more interested in the few costumes she carried than the leotards, tights, skirts and shoes.
“I didn’t know a lot about costumes outside the dance performance arena, but I did some research and learned what my customers wanted and where I could get it,” Gentry-Combs said. “Since this was not initially my area of expertise, there were some expensive mistakes along the way, but my customers loved the few costumes I carried and started asking for other make-believe items.”
Gentry-Combs sewed a lot, found some suppliers and started carrying hats, makeup and accessories. After only three years the shop broke even, but she got a booking as an actress that actually paid more than she was making at the time. So, she sold it all and went on tour as a Marilyn Monroe impersonator.
“After about a year I headed back to Texas and kept my options open,” Gentry-Combs said. “I did some corporate temp work, which felt like another acting job to me and my spirit, but the money was good. I became a permanent corporate employee and the money was better, so I invested in another shop and hired a wonderful lady run for me.”
It continued to grow and after a few years she left the corporate arena to return to the joy of costuming.
Over the Top Costume Shoppe soon expanded from 1,000 square feet to 3,000 square feet and moved a few doors down in the same shopping center in an old metal warehouse-style building near a main freeway centrally located between Dallas and Fort Worth. They didn’t get to choose the layout of the store, so they made the best of rooms that were walled separately.
“There’s the dance room with everything from ballet to belly dance, the fitting room, the back room where petticoats and mascot costumes live and a studio where I teach Hula and Belly dancing for my sanity and happy spirit after the shop is closed,” Gentry-Combs said. “This also brings in dancers and customers to the store that would not normally know about it.”
That includes many parents and children looking for not only party fun and accessories, but also costumes and wearables for school plays and projects. Gentry-Combs has become known for children’s school projects, costumes, party fun and even little toys, which means the store is quite busy year round.
She’s out there looking for steady budgets found with schools, theater folks, conventions, festival folks, etc. Their busiest time of year outside of Halloween is April and May when school is winding up with one-act plays, last minute historical projects, dance recitals and events.
“It’s about a 50/50 split in my shop of rentals and sales,” Gentry-Combs said. “The upside of rentals is that they are ‘green,’ eco-friendly, durable and made very well, but then I also have to wash and repair them. Sales are the key to the rotation of great fresh product and open up space for new and improved make-believe goodies.”
They stock whatever is great for the season up in the front of the store -Halloween, Mardi Gras, Valentine’s Day – and put it near the front counter so they can greet and help customers right away.
For Halloween, they prepare all summer to get orders in from January, pull down luau at the end of August and put the fun Halloween costumes up in the front of the store. Halloween basically speaks for itself with typical werewolves, mummies, cheerleaders, pumpkins and witches selling well and characters such as Elvira, Frankie and Beetlejuice tops for rentals.
“We are not a store for gore, though I am becoming a theater makeup expert and can make a great zombie with the best of them,” Gentry-Combs said. “There are many makeup innovations year to year and we are a Mehron master dealer and use Rubie’s, Ben Nye, Snazaroo and many others in our store to give our customers a variety of choices every season.”
December brings Santa suits, large mascot rentals, make-believe items for actors and dancers and lots of elves, reindeer and winter wonderland characters for school plays and promotions. Gentry-Combs said they have nearby cities that do a good tourist business and rent street characters from her for the holidays, and then they have masquerade balls and fun for New Years.
The New Year itself brings colonial days, ’50s day and Pioneer Days in their area of historical Texas. Gentry-Combs said the local schools do wax museums, which are a fun way to learn about historical figures.
“The child dresses up like their character – Paul Revere, Sally Ride, etc.- and when their little button is pushed (a spot on their hand) they come to life and talk about their character,” she said. “Of course they need a costume and we purchase and design as much as possible in ‘mini’ sizes.”
They change their front display based not only on what season it is, but on what is happening locally. If there is a masquerade ball, then they display a gorgeous gown, masks etc. If there is a festival such as Grapefest or Oktoberfest, then they go with that.
Spring brings school plays and local events such as Renaissance Festivals, and although summer is an inevitable struggle, it’s also a time to “re-organize, re-group and even rest for a couple minutes.” Local summer camps have theme nights such as the space age and “Where’s Waldo?” and the store often helps supply them with accessories.
Gentry-Combs said the key to success is keeping your name out there – virtually and in real-time.
“We have three websites for different reasons,” she explained. “We just changed our shop name from Odyssey Theatrical to Over the Top Costume Shoppe, so one of our websites is informational with the names so folks can easily find us. We also have an e-commerce site that changes every day and a blog that I use to share costume ideas with other people.”
They also have booths at local anime and sci-fi conventions selling wigs, makeup and costumes there to people that dress up all year. Gentry-Combs knew that when she opened her small business she had a vision, but that she needed to be able to yield to what life brings and the customers’ needs.
If that includes dressing up like Marilyn Monroe and teaching belly dancing on the side, then so be it. After all, nothing is over the top at Over the Top Costume Shoppe.